As a premise, Bow to Blood: Last Captain Standing is pretty awesome. As the title alludes, there is a last-man-standing approach to this airborne battle game that mixes elements of strategy and action together in frantic, often exciting ways. While most of what is here is fairly well executed on, admittedly the core gameplay has a bit of a been-there and done-that feel to it that becomes somewhat repetitive despite having a pretty cool concept driving the gameplay.
Admittedly, the idea of flying an airship (in VR no less, though you can play without virtual reality as well – but it is certainly less immersive if you choose to forgo the headset) has long appealed to me. Many of my favorite games (especially early Final Fantasy ones) made me want to explore the world and battle in the sky the way pirates battled at sea. To that end, Bow to Blood offers some welcome wish fulfillment.
There is a reality show / Running Man vibe here as eight contestants take to the unfriendly skies and fight it out. To the title’s credit, the randomly generated games do keep things somewhat fresh and unexpected. It is interesting to keep the story / campaign moving forward int his fashion, though the narrative is pretty thin as a result of the game’s need / design to change things up each section. What follows is a series of elimination matches. Each round, the competitors with the highest score vote whom to kick off of the island (so to speak) from the bottom two performers. You then enter the next round with one less contestant until you are down to the final two who duke it out for aerial supremacy.
How are points earned? Glad you asked (even if you didn’t). There are a few different ways as each stage has some baked in challenges, plus the more expected methods such as finding loot or shooting down the competition will help you to earn those points. So while this probably all sounds like an action game, there are some strategic elements to consider as well. Your crew can do a lot of different things, but they are essentially a resource and those resources come with limitations. You can almost think of these as special abilities. If you assign crew to the engine and that equates to better speed, or if you want to focus more heavily on shields, you may have to sacrifice agility.
This combination of action and strategy when mingled with the random nature of each play session creates some nice variety on the surface. Where that begins to fall apart though is in the gameplay itself. You are fighting for the top spot, but I never really felt much progression. Sessions are fun, but without more RPG growth-like elements, sessions start to feel very similar to one another even if they are technically different. Being able to grow my ship in some meaningful way between rounds and even between new games would have been a welcome carrot to dangle in order to keep me coming back. Additionally, overall movement is rather slow. There can be a lot going on when you have multiple ships battling for the same airspace, but the actual ship movement is rather sluggish. I suspect that is in part due to the VR sensibilities of the game. Visually VR was clearly intended, and while it ports over fine for non-VR play, there are some lingering implications of the title’s initial design.
The overall visuals are colorful and fun, if not terribly detailed or filled with great animations. Sound effects during the game are fine, though I kind of hate the announcer. Especially in later stages where he just kind of messes up the overall pacing of gameplay, talking at me incessantly. It fits the Survivor-esque reality tv / elimination theme, but that does not make him any more enjoyable to listen to after a time.